LEICESTER – A citizen’s petition to allow outdoor growing of marijuana was approved by town neeting Tuesday night.
The petitioner, Leon Dykas, is a licensed plumber and owner of Lee Dykas Plumbing and Heating, as well as a farmer on 140 acres that was part of the original Greene Estate for many years. Part of that land, he explained, is used by Coopers Hilltop Farms to grow hay and corn in support of its operations.
In January, the Massachusetts Cannabis Commission passed regulations allowing for the outdoor growing of marijuana by farmers only.
Leicester in 2013 approved a bylaw that allows marijuana cultivation indoors, subject to a special permitting process. The proposed bylaw change would allow outdoor growing within a suburban agriculture district under certain conditions.
The conditions include compliance with state law and regulations on marijuana cultivation, an 8-foot perimeter fence, a security alarm, 24-hour manned security and video surveillance available to police.
In addition, the farmer and the town must enter into a host community agreement that could result in the community getting up to 3% of gross sales.
Mr. Dykas in his petition noted that the bylaw change would result in the hiring of skilled workers and give Leicester a “head start” in the outdoor growing market because there are no other growers of this kind in Central Massachusetts.
This type of farming would only be allowed on 15 acres or more, with a formula ranging from 5,000 square feet on 15 acres up to a maximum of 100,000 square feet on 50 acres or more.
The vote was 83 in favor, 37 opposed. One person abstained.
In other business, town meeting approved a fiscal 2021 budget of $29,995,505, which is 1.77% more than this year. Voters approved a capital request of $132,459 to pay for the fourth year of a purchase payment/lease of an aerial scope tower truck for the Fire Department as well as replacement of the roof at fire station #2.
Officials noted that six other requests were put off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and they likely will be addressed at a later date.
Voters also approved a $40,000 transfer from free cash for Towtaid Park improvements, including the purchase of playground equipment that will be supplemented by a $15,000 Kaboom grant.
Other approved expenditures included $25,000 for vehicle maintenance of highway trucks; $25,000 to correct a design flaw in a truck’s plow attachment; $20,911 to repair fire apparatus and equipment; and $34,905 for unanticipated repairs to the Police Department’s furnace and nitrogen generator and upgrades to the training room.
Also, voters agreed to purchase supplies, services and equipment for pandemics or other emergencies. Town Administrator David Genereux said these items could be used for any type of disaster, such as a hurricane or other storm, in addition to something like COVID-19.
The annual session was moved to the high school gym to allow for social distancing to reduce risk of spreading the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. According to Genereux, 130 voters attended, about 40 fewer than usual. He said everyone was masked and the meeting was well run and respectful. Microphones were cleaned between speakers.